As most readers will have seen, one of the most loyal servants of League of Ireland football has decided to retire from the senior game. Jason Byrne, 40 in February, will drop down to play with Bluebell United in the Leinster Senior League after 20 years banging in the goals for various League of Ireland sides.
Back in May 1999 ‘Jayo’ gave me the best birthday present I could have asked for as I turned 30. He scored two goals in the second replay of the 1999 FAI Cup final to clinch a 2-1 win for Bray Wanderers over Finn Harps.
I was lucky enough to have witnessed Jason’s first league goal in senior football – in a game between Bray and Shamrock Rovers in September 1998. By chance I also saw his last – this October for Cabinteely against Shelbourne at Tolka Park. I saw many other ‘Jayo’ goals over the years as he knocked in 222 League of Ireland goals for Bray [two spells], Shelbourne, Bohemians [two spells], Dundalk, UCD and Cabinteely.
Jason’s career also saw him earn two Republic of Ireland caps [against Poland and Chile] and play in England with Cardiff City, where he was in the same squad as Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink and Robbie Fowler. He played many games in European competitions over the years, and won five Premier Division titles [three with Shelbourne and two with Bohemians] and two FAI Cups [a second with Bohemians followed the one with Bray].
Jason retires from League of Ireland circles as the highest-scoring active player. While in his second spell at Bray Wanderers [2012-13] he surpassed Pat Morley’s 182 goals to leave him behind only Brendan Bradley in the all-time stakes. Jason has been trying to beat the 235 league goals Bradley scored in recent years, but retires 13 short on 222.
Like Jason Byrne, Brendan Bradley had a 20-year League of Ireland career that saw him play for Finn Harps [3 spells], Derry City, Sligo Rovers and Athlone Town. He also had a season in England – he played for Lincoln City in the early 70’s just around the time future England manager Graham Taylor was starting his managerial career at Sincil Bank.
Bradley scored his 235 goals in 389 league games, a slightly higher return rate than Jason [who took 473 games to score his 222 goals]. I started watching League of Ireland football in 1985-86, when Bray Wanderers were elevated to the League of Ireland. Bradley was playing his final season at that time, with Derry City, so I was lucky enough to see him in action, even if it was only at the end of his career.
Winning the First Division Shield in 1985-86 with Derry was special for Bradley, as he is a Derry man by birth. His only other trophy in senior football was a 1974 FAI Cup win with Finn Harps. He’s happily retired these days, and never ventured into management once he hung up his boots. Jason Byrne has already begun a coaching career – he’s been involved at Bluebell for several months. We haven’t heard the last of ‘Jayo’, not by a long shot.